A simple blood test may allow doctors to predict the age at which a woman will hit the menopause – and do so with enough accuracy to allow young women to plan a family by knowing how long they can safely put off having children.
A 12-year Iranian study of 266 women found that it was possible to pinpoint the age of menopause by measuring levels of a hormone called AMH, which controls the development of follicles in the ovaries from which eggs develop.
But specialists warned that women should be wary of taking a lifestyle approach to such tests.
Early research suggests that the new test can forecast the menopause to an accuracy of four months. "The results from our study could enable us to make a more realistic assessment of women's reproductive status many years before they reach menopause," said study leader Dr Fahimeh Ramezani Tehrani, from the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Iran. However she pointed out that larger studies lasting several years were needed.
Most women hit the menopause – when their oestrogen levels fall, their periods stop, and they cease to ovulate – between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK the average age is 52.
Menopausal ages for women at different points in their reproductive life were calculated by studying levels of AMH in the blood. "We were able to show there was a good level of agreement between ages at menopause estimated by our model, and the actual age at menopause for a subgroup of 63 women who reached menopause during the study," said Dr Ramezani Tehrani.
The findings will be presented today at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Rome.